Estranged siblings are forced to address long-held grievances when the oldest brother returns home after years away. The Adults tries your patience as relatable but unlikable characters engage in strange behavior with annoying song and dance routines. No, this isn’t a musical, but a subplot has them re-enacting childhood fantasies through weird imaginary personas. To say this gets old and irritating quickly is an understatement. The film is capably acted and realistically depicts the buried grudges we all hold against our family members. There’s decent drama between the silliness. The problem is that the bad aspects torpedoes good intentions and significantly affects the pacing.
Eric (Michael Cera) arrives at his hotel in upstate New York. He hasn’t been back home to see his sisters since moving to Portland. Eric calls Rachel (Hannah Gross) and awkwardly tries to catch up. He didn’t have a clue her boyfriend cheated and dumped her months ago. Rachel chides him for not caring. Eric hasn’t kept in touch or shown any interest in her life. He quickly tries to change the subject. How’s everything with Maggie (Sophia Lillis)? Rachel coldly replies that Maggie stopped going to college and moved out. A surprised Eric promises he’ll stop by later.
Eric knocks on the door of an old high school friend. Dennis (Wavyy Jonez) seems remarkably indifferent to see him. Eric wants to know if he’s still playing underground poker games. Dennis informs him of a weekly game with low stakes. Eric shows a hint of excitement for the first time. He definitively wants to come. Dennis agrees but isn’t thrilled at the prospect.
Surprising Musical Numbers
Eric finally meets Rachel and Maggie at a local diner. The conversation gets barbed after a simple interaction with the waitress. The first visible signs of anger and resentment between them starts to leak out. Later at the house, Eric’s comments about how things haven’t changed aren’t taken lightly. Rachel blames him for abandoning them after their parents died. She had to handle everything and prevent their home from being sold. He has no right to criticize anything. Eric tries to alleviate the tension, but it gets worse. Rachel informs him there’s something wrong with Maggie. She’s depressed and Rachel doesn’t know why. Maggie wants them all to get together again soon, but Eric prioritizes his poker games first.
The Adults builds to a slow boil in the second act. We start to see the personality differences that have driven Eric and his sisters apart. Eric, a card shark poker player, becomes agitated and bitter when he loses a few hands at the first game. He bullies the other players into continuing until he cleans them out. Eric isn’t concerned about the money. The thrill comes from reading other players and beating them strategically. He wants everyone to know he’s the best at the table. Eric’s gambling addiction leads to bigger trouble as he’s invited to other games with higher stakes.
Rachel and Maggie have never reconciled their feelings about Eric leaving. They loved their brother growing up. His departure put a hole in their lives. Rachel fills it with resentment while Maggie genuinely can’t process her emotions. She doesn’t know what to do with herself and has several breakdowns as the plot progresses. Maggie was a child when their parents passed away. Eric and Rachel were her anchors to stability. She’s a leaf blowing in the wind, desperate for attachment.
Writer/director Dustin Guy Defa (Bad Fever, Person to Person) uses musical numbers as the thread that binds the characters together and allows them an outlet to express anger. Maggie comes down the back stairway of their house singing a goofy song and dancing. She wants Eric and Rachel to join in like when they were kids. Initial reluctance dissipates when Rachel croons her displeasure at Eric in a bizarre voice. He recognizes her young alter ego and responds in kind. This opens the floodgates of choral mudslinging as their bickering increases until an unavoidable climactic showdown.
The Adults is a play on words as the protagonists act like children. They are clearly not mature and haven’t taken the time to figure out the divide between them. This is the crux of a story that’s almost painfully played out. They engage in juvenile antics instead of sitting down and coming to terms. This inability to make peace in itself isn’t the issue. Avoiding confrontation and conflict to stir up more angst makes sense. It’s just that Defa’s vehicle for bringing them together is so grating. I wanted to plug my ears every time they start singing. It’s hard to empathize with characters when you find what they’re doing so incredibly distasteful.
The Adults, from Dweck Productions and Savage Rose Films, had its US premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. It is now in theaters courtesy of Variance Films and Universal Pictures. You can watch the trailer below.